Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What If They Gave a War Protest and Nobody Came

It turns out that Americans are not war-weary after all. They're just weary of being weary. They're all outraged out. They're replete on Marching for Climate. Bombing another Middle-Eastern country? Yawn. Were there any nip-slips on Dancing With the Stars last night?

Maybe I'm all wrong about the ennui. Because if narrowly-framed polls are any indication, the propaganda efforts by Frighteners, Inc. are working really well. A sizeable portion of the population, besides being bored out their skulls, really does believe that Islamists are on the verge of breaching the borders of The Homeland, bent on killing us all in our beds. It really is possible to be apathetic and scared shitless at the same time.

I don't know whether the 60 percent or so who think that bombing Syria is a good idea are among the same 60-plus percent who can't name the three branches of government. That's a poll for another day.

Oh, and it's not that people aren't protesting the latest surge in perpetual War Against Terror. Because they are. Yesterday, a grand total of 22 people showed up to demonstrate in front of the White House. In San Francisco, erstwhile Demonstration Central, the streets were quiet. The same folks who got wee-wee'd up when Bush waged war are marching in lockstep behind Obama for this one. This is despite the fact that he bragged that such bastions of repressive totalitarianism as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are his new BFFs. These are places where they still behead and enslave people. The cognitive dissonance between that statement and a later one at the star-studded Clinton Global Initiative, urging civil rights on other countries, was deafening.

And it's more than apathy and fear cancelling each other out in the average American. It's cynicism and gullibility. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, 
A mixture  of gullibility and cynicism has been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever changing incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct assumption that under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
And thus it was only the day after the bombing of Syria that our government deigned to let us know of the secret existence of a nefarious little group called Khorasan (rhymes with Corazon, which is Spanish for "heart," so this is a shadow terror group you'll really love to hate!) Is it a real threat? Our inner Cynic All tells us no, our inner Gully Bull tells us yes, and the two of them give birth to Con Fusion. Maybe it's best to just keep quiet, and assume that if the Commander in Chief lies, it's to keep us safe. He has our best interests at heart. After all, the uninsured rate has gone down by eight percent, and he embraced gay rights. It's a cold hard world out there. And as Arendt observed, secrecy is an absolute prerequisite for the successful indoctrination of the masses. Not for nothing has the Obama administration been called the most secretive in modern history. A few intrepid journalists are even daring to complain, their access to the powerful be damned.

The AP lists eight ways that the White House suppresses news and thus effectuates its own buzzing war propaganda machine. I quote the list in its entirety, because this is important:

1) As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organizations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.

2) The White House once fought to get cameramen, photographers and reporters into meetings the president had with foreign leaders overseas. That access has become much rarer. Think about the message that sends other nations about how the world’s leading democracy deals with the media:  Keep them out and let them use handout photos.

3) Guantanamo: The big important 9/11 trial is finally coming up. But we aren’t allowed to see most court filings in real time — even of nonclassified material. So at hearings, we can’t follow what’s happening. We don’t know what prosecutors are asking for, or what defense attorneys are arguing.

4) Information about Guantanamo that was routinely released under President George W. Bush is now kept secret. The military won’t release the number of prisoners on hunger strike or the number of assaults on guards. Photo and video coverage is virtually nonexistent.

5) Day-to-day intimidation of sources is chilling. AP’s transportation reporter’s sources say that if they are caught talking to her, they will be fired. Even if they just give her facts, about safety, for example. Government press officials say their orders are to squelch anything controversial or that makes the administration look bad.

6) One of the media — and public’s — most important legal tools, the Freedom of Information Act, is under siege. Requests for information under FOIA have become slow and expensive. Many federal agencies simply don’t respond at all in a timely manner, forcing news organizations to sue each time to force action.

7) The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing. Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.

8) The administration is trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out. The FBI has directed local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology the police departments use to sweep up cellphone data. In some cases, federal officials have formally intervened in state open records cases, arguing for secrecy.


It's not only mission-creep we have to worry about. It's totalitarianism-creep. Secrecy and democracy simply cannot co-exist. And adding to the AP's list of oppressive government tactics, here's a scary new one, just in today:
Journalists who cover the White House say Obama’s press aides have demanded — and received — changes in press-pool reports before the reports have been disseminated to other journalists. They say the White House has used its unusual role as the distributor of the reports as leverage to steer coverage in a more favorable direction.
Meanwhile, as Dana Milbank observes in today's Washington Post, "Obama endures as the lesser evil for liberals." Noting the low turnout at a D.C. peace protest, he writes:
He has disappointed liberal constituencies on immigration, on climate change, on Guantanamo Bay and targeted killings, and now on Syria. Yet this month’s Washington Post-ABC News poll shows him with 69 percent support among liberals, 87 percent among African Americans and 75 percent among Democrats. Liberals supported airstrikes in Iraq and Syria (64 percent and 54 percent, respectively), as did Democrats (67 percent and 60 percent).
 I asked (Code Pink's Medea) Benjamin, who like (antiwar activist David) Swanson voted for Obama in 2008 before turning Green, why so few on the left oppose Obama. “He’s totally defanged us,” she said, citing his party, his affability — and his race. “The black community is traditionally the most antiwar community in this country. He’s defanged that sentiment within the black community, or certainly voicing that sentiment.”
Only time will tell if Obama will continue enjoying the support, enjoyed largely because of the concomitant secrecy of his administration and his skill at marketing. Remember, the majority of the people also supported George W. Bush in the early days of the Second Iraq War. And Bush was not nearly as attractive or glib as the current White House occupant, who lobs the love bombs along with the Tomahawk missiles. History is full of charismatic politicians whose forceful personalities trump the common sense of their followers.

If there is any hope at all, it lies with the young. Just when I thought the news couldn't get any more depressing, I came across an article in today's New York Times about a group of Colorado students who walked out of class to protest a Koch-fueled curriculum touting the free market and patriotism. 

At least we still have free speech, suppressed and discouraged and monitored as it is. It's on us to keep fighting back, against all odds and against all apathy. The Colorado students, part of what Commander-in-Chief Obama creepily calls the 9/11 Generation, have never known a day in which this country has not been at war. So good on them that they refuse to get used to the status quo.


Zee said...

“The same folks who got wee-wee'd up when Bush waged war are marching in lockstep behind Obama for this one.”—Karen Garcia

Funny how that works: “Bush always 'bad.' Obama always 'good.'”*

Medea Benjamin had it too right: “'He’s totally defanged us,' she said, citing his party, his affability — and his race. 'The black community is traditionally the most antiwar community in this country. He’s defanged that sentiment within the black community, or certainly voicing that sentiment.'”

But it's not just the “black community” that has been “defanged;” rather, I'm pretty sure that almost every liberal of every race has been “defanged,” unable to admit that the blind hope and trust that they foolishly placed in Barack Obama, America's first black President, turned out to be completely misguided.

Seeing Obama for the evil failure that he is has to be heartbreaking for most of those who voted for the guy, and now they are mostly in total denial, doubling down on their blind support for him and his policies, and woe betide those who dare to criticize their hero, even Progressive critics.

I suspect that “liberal” support for Obama will stay high even if a relatively bloodless [on “our” side] air war morphs into significant American combat troops on the ground, as I'm sure will happen. Very few of those who voted for Obama will care to turn around and march against his policies even as the body bags start to come home. After all, that would mean admitting that they were wrong about Obama.

“History is full of charismatic politicians whose forceful personalities trump the common sense of their followers.”—Karen Garcia

IMHO, sustained liberal devotion to Obama has less to do with his charisma or forceful personality (any more), than it has to do with an inability of Obama's most hope-filled followers to admit that they made a HUGE mistake.

*From The Gospel According to American Liberalism, p.1

ste-vo said...

Regarding Mr. President Peace Prize,
my car decal says it all, and very succinctly, "I am much happier now that I have given up all hope."

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Zee, @ste-vo, (and @all):

"ste-vo said...

Regarding Mr. President Peace Prize,
my car decal says it all, and very succinctly, 'I am much happier now that I have given up all hope.'"

Yeah, "hope" is the new "opiate of the masses". (Well, together with Prozac, and many other anti-anxiety drugs, lower dosages and renamings of which are now being hawked to the public for a wide variety of conditions. I wonder how much the wide medication of the American public is contributing to a public mood that seems like anesthesia/apathy, when it is not outright approval of militarism and corporatism?).

Even Henry Giroux has fallen into the "hope" trap in his recent book "The Violence of Organized Forgetting; Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine". The last chapter of that book is titled "Hope in Time of Permanent War". Oh sure, he tries to gussy-up "hope" in a more expansive and intellectual framework. But as "Dienne", the one critical reviewer on Amazon said: "[...] Giroux’s solution, in his final chapter, basically comes down to hope. Really? That’s all you’ve got? I think we’ve heard that one before [...] The reality is that the neoliberal agenda is taking hold because the majority of people are buying into it. As Giroux says, it sounds like 'common sense'. The trick is to try to get people to understand why that 'common sense' is actually so poisonous. And that’s not easy to do. When you start telling people that the 'common sense' things they believe in are oppressive, violent and racist, they tend to get rather defensive. [...]"

And I would add a basic social communication principle I've heard referred to many times (but unfortunately don't have a source for, or even the specific statistics cited): It's that when a customer is pleased by a product or service, he or she will tell, on average, something like three or four people; but when a customer is displeased, he or she will tell a dozen or more.

So I think that disgust and outrage (as well as fear) are far more powerful motivators for organization and political action than is satisfaction, let alone "hope". "Hope" may have a place, but it's after disgust and outrage get opposition rolling. (And even then, hope must not be allowed to become a co-opting influence. Unfortunately, that's what happened with regard to the liberal perception of Obama, and it stuck).

I think that at this point, as prime activity, true progressives need to figure out and then vigorously do what it takes to overcome the current American popular mood, which seems to cycle between anesthesia, hope, and the various fears instilled into it by government/business/the military as a means of politico-economic control. Let's celebrate and promote necessary disgust and outrage. And concurrently, there needs to occur action to advance political alternatives to the Demopublicans and Republocrats who play us off against one another with an illusion of choice. Even in the best of circumstances, and in any endevor or arena of choice, I don't consider two alternatives to be robust competition.

Denis Neville said...

Will the following news will get people onto the streets to protest?

“The United States plans to spend more than $1 trillion to revitalize its antiquated nuclear arsenal over the next three decades, according to a new report. The Obama administration has dedicated a ‘sprawling new plant’ in Kansas City, Missouri - bigger than the Pentagon - to modernize 'the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.

The Kansas City National Security Campus is part of a 'wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers.' Because of 'political deals and geopolitical crises,' the Obama administration is overseeing an extensive modernization of its atomic arsenal while implementing only modest arms reductions ... Gary Samore, Obama’s top nuclear adviser in his first term, said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were a major factor. 'That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible.'”

Congressional hawks believe that the new plan will put the United States in a 'stronger position if a new arms race breaks out' and hope the renovated nuclear plants could allow the US arsenal to 'expand rapidly' under a different president ...”

“Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are over-consuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.” - Aldous Huxley, Island

H.L. Mencken correctly observed:

“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

The sheeple are only given two options for a reason. Both are parts of the same machine. They are completely manipulated and controlled.

“Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” - Tacitus

[To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.]

Karen Garcia said...

Even the corporate media are beginning to notice the irony of the Peace Prize.

As far as the Kansas Nuke Factory is concerned, I am surprised that Prez Peace hasn't yet co-opted its workers in haz-mat suits as backdrops for another speech on how the economy is boomin' thanks to the grit and resilience of the American people. The jobs situation is glowing as well as growing! What's the anti-matter with Kansas?

Eric Veltri said...

Don`t give up Steve. That's exactly what they want. I believe that there's only a minority of the population that's either capable of critical thinking or cares enough about what goes on in the country or the world to care. If they really look critically then extreme cognitive dissonance sets in and that's something many can't tolerate for very long.

Jay - Ottawa said...

A while back I expatiated on the matter of hope. Here I go again. And, Fred, do you have any more of those bumper stickers?

If hope has a place anywhere, it’s in the theological discussions of some religions as a key virtue, usually capitalized. Hope is exclusively far-sighted, never myopic. It ignores the hotfoot of the present hell to focus on the avoidance of some future hell. Even in religion it is suspect, always in danger of being used as an opiate by religious elites in cahoots with secular elites to tamp down unrest among the faithful, more than to light their way to salvation.

In the real world of every day struggle hope has no standing. It is never a civic virtue. It is no substitute for work or solidarity or action, here below and NOW. Hope is a useless idiot with a big smile and no teeth. Hope never makes a fuss. Politicians intent on deceit and diversion pull hope out of its original context (in religion) and adapt it to the secular religion they happen to be hawking.

Hope forgets the past and ignores the present in order to “look forward” with endless patience. (See The History of Obama for examples of its frequent use in this manner.) The more a politician employs the term hope, the more he or she should be regarded with suspicion. Buying into hope on a politician’s cue is a good way to forestall outrage at injustice, which leads us to postpone loud gatherings in the square with torches and pitchforks and takes us instead to the land of civic zombies.

Outrage over injustice: now there’s a civic virtue.